Love it or hate it -- and there are plenty of people on both sides -- native advertising is the hot new trend in online publishing, as demonstrated by a flurry of new native ad partnerships and
products in recent months. All this activity is also attracting attention from the Powers That Be, raising the eternal question of voluntary self-regulation versus external control by organs of
On the positive side, the wins for native advertising platforms have been piling up at dizzying speed. Nativo -- a start-up that helps publishers scale native advertising
by automating the process of formatting and distributing native ads across various devices -- has signed deals with over 1,500 publishers, including McClatchy, Lee Enterprises, Gatehouse Media, Source
Interlink, the USA Today Sports Media Group, Entrepreneur Media and Reader’s Digest.
According to Nativo founder and CEO Justin Choi, in addition to matching the look and feel
of the publisher’s platform, one of Nativo’s key features is that it allows publishers to build native ad units and host them on site, thus retaining their audience. On the advertiser
side, Nativo offers advertising clients the efficiency of an ad exchange by automating the tailoring and distribution of ads, enabling targeting by demographic and geographic characteristics, among
However, some publishers are setting up in-house native ad outfits. Time Inc. recently circulated an RFP to enlist a partner for the design, development and launch of
a comprehensive new native ad platform for Time Inc.’s brands. Separately, the company announced its first advertising client for Watercooler Live, a native ad product that combines advertiser
content and Time Inc.’s editorial content in microsites and ad units. Land Rover is using Watercooler Live to create a microsite and ad units with custom content from the carmaker and Time Inc.
Continuing the in-house trend, in November The New York Times Co. revealed plans for a native advertising platform, led by Executive Vice President for Advertising
Meredith Kopit Levien, who previously helped develop Forbes
’ pioneering native advertising push. In November, Levien told Capital New York
that it will include a
“suite of social amplification and analytics tools to enable marketers to see and scale the value of those stories in real time.”
Also in November, the Associated Press
announced a partnership with Polar, which operates a native advertising platform for digital publishers called MediaVoice. MediaVoice -- launched by Toronto-based Polar in July -- offers native ad
options, including sponsored stories, sponsored videos, sponsored photo galleries and sponsored outbound links, along with a plugin that automatically formats ad content to match the look and feel of
the host site.
Back in the magazine world, Conde Nast publications are also going native. In August, Wired
launched Amplifi, a native ad service that creates branded
promotional content for advertising clients, including for example a custom magazine for Cisco drawing on crowd-sourced content. The New Yorker
has also introduced native advertising units.
Native is a natural for fashion publications. In September, Hearst Corp. launched its first native advertising campaign on Harper's Bazaar
with Nordstrom as its debut client.
But inevitably all this activity has resulted in greater scrutiny from regulators.
Last week, the Federal Trade Commission fired a warning shot with a workshop where speakers
took a decidedly mixed view of the discipline. FTC Commissioner Edith Ramirez opened the workshop with a warning: “By presenting ads that resemble editorial content, an advertiser risks
implying, deceptively, that the information comes from a nonbiased source.”
On that note, some publishing industry organizations have already begun issuing guidelines for
voluntary self-regulation; some of them address the issue of appearance. In October, the American Society of Magazine Editors released an updated version of its editorial guidelines with new
suggestions for best practices surrounding native advertising. Among other things, ASME suggested that native advertising “should not use type fonts and graphics resembling those used for
editorial content and should be visually separated from editorial content."
Still, much of native advertising's appeal derives from its resemblance to editorial content. By matching
the format and appearance of surrounding articles, advertisers hope to avoid the curse of “interruptive” messaging that consumers often reflexively ignore